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There's a reason my father always takes the boat. It's easier to disappear that way, and harder to be traced. And it's quiet – there's no fanfare. No airports to stress through with their laundry list of security measures. No trains or cars, which can be so confining. Don't even start with buses. Sailing into the proverbial sunset is always the way to go.
It's always been sailboats, even when things were not so nefarious. Back in the day, when I was a kid, Dad took us all the time. We've always lived in coastal areas, so it was something we shared with him from day one. My mother had loved it, too, and weekends and holidays always found our family on the water. Em had gotten into it even more than me, but it had always been something I'd enjoyed. My memories of those days are nearly idyllic.
Then again, we hadn't been running away from anything back then.
These days, the boat is good for escape. We're never running from the law, because we never steal from law-abiding citizens. The cash, the riches – they're always ill gained. Always shady. No fool's going to call the cops to report missing jewels or wads of bills they have no legitimate explanation for having in the first place.
No, we're usually on the lookout for people who are just as elusive as we are. It's a constant game. Thankfully, we've always covered out tracks, and we've always acted as go-betweens. Meaning, we're usually contracted to do what we do. Dad's got a lot of connections; people trust him. They know him. None of the jobs, as far as I know, have been personal, so unless one of us slips up, there's no reason to trace anything back to us.
Sailing away afterward has always been peaceful.
There's nothing peaceful about how I feel right now.
To add to my shitty mood, weekend days at the marina's parking lot are a nightmare. We circle several times before finally finding a recently vacated spot, pulling in seconds before someone else does. Emmett will leave the car here as he usually does, and later on someone he's paid off will return it to the nearest rental agency.
The marina's bustling with activity. Everywhere I look, I see happy people – couples, families, groups of friends – loading coolers onto sailboats and keeping small children from tumbling off the dock in their exuberance. Seems like everyone's smiling, excited for a day on the water despite the clouds.
I'm not smiling. Our trip is about evasion and survival, not pleasure.
How has Dad lived like this for so long?
It was an adventure when I was younger. Ignorance really is bliss, because once I was introduced to the truth of what we did, my sense of excitement changed from something open and free to something dark and calculated.
Rose stops walking abruptly, allowing a kid walking a dog to cross in front of us. I almost run into her, and she glances back at me, eyes soft with worry.
"Sorry," I mutter.
She smiles a little, squeezing my shoulder, and turns to the dock, where my father is aboard our boat and busy at work. I haven't stepped foot on it since the night I brought Bella onto it, and my heart cramps as I follow Emmett and Rose now. My bags are already here. Everything is already in place.
I was the last detail, and now that I've been collected we can go.
"How'd it go?"
Blinking, I run my hands through my hair, holding it away from my face as I look up at my father. "What?"
He squints at me, sucking halfway through a cigarette before plucking it from his mouth. "I said, how'd it go?"
Emmett's been keeping him abreast of things, and I know they've been in close contact this morning, so I'm not sure why he's even asking me. And the past couple of days? They haven't exactly been easygoing. We've had more disagreements about our methods...about Bella...in the past two weeks than we've had in years.
Instead of answering, I shrug.
"Something you need to get off your chest?" he asks evenly.
Emmett glances over at me from his spot across deck. He's got a good poker face, but I know him well. Right now he's worried because of my meltdown earlier. He knows I'm wavering.
"Yeah." I nod once. "I'm not doing this."
"This. I'm not doing this again." Brushing past him, I jog down to the bedroom, where our stuff is. My bags are on the floor, an envelope with my cut tucked carefully into the front pocket of one. I toss that on to the bed and take only my bags. I can't take that money.
I wouldn't take it even if I were broke. As it is, though, I'm not. There's money in an account my father knows nothing about. He could easily find out, of course – he makes a living by stealing, and sometimes that includes hacking – but I'll have it cleaned out by the time he tries. I turn to leave, but he joins me in the cramped space below deck, seeming, like always, bigger than he really is. We're the same height now, with nearly the same build. While Em took after our mother, I always was the spitting image of Edward! When I was younger, and our family was a happy whole, that filled me with pride. He'd been my hero, then. Now I just resent it.
"Talk to me. What exactly is the problem, Edward?"
His calmness is typical. I'm not sure if it's a byproduct of the lifestyle, or simply the way he's hardwired... it might even have something to do with Mom's death. I don't know, but it's gotten worse as the years go by. He's past cold, past callous; he's impenetrable. I look at him and see how decades of getting over on other people can strip a person of their humanity.
"Is it because of her? I thought we'd moved past this...infatuation."
"Don't talk to me about her."
"You never took issue with it before, so leave your self righteousness at the door. She's just a girl; they're all just girls."
This is what he does: cajole and convince, twisting words and intentions until it's impossible to tell which way is up. It's one thing watching him inflict it on other people, quite another when he's doing it to me.
Like I'm a mark. His mark.
The worst thing I could do is engage with him. My mind's made; I don't have time to waste. "She's not just anything. But whatever. I'm gone." Shrugging him off, I go back up to the deck. Emmett and Rosalie are talking quietly, but they straighten up when they see me, questions all over their faces. I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, trying to center myself. "I'm going. I need...to not do this anymore."
"Ed, man. Come on. Give it a couple days. Let the feelings die down a little."
"Never make big decisions in the heat of the moment," he continues, sounding like a self-help book or something.
"Emmett. I'm leaving."
"Let me know when you're ready to stop doing this." I step carefully onto the dock again, leaving the only family, the only life I've ever known.
Dad appears behind Emmett with my envelope. "Forget something?"
"I don't want that."
He folds his arms. "You're really going to leave? Just like that? Where're you going to go?"
"I don't know."
"You leave, don't bother coming back. We'll be gone."
Emmett's face falls, and he looks right at me, silently begging.
I can't say Dad's words don't cut right through me, because they do. It doesn't matter that he's a prick, that he's selfish and insensitive and almost cruel. He's my father, and I love him.
Unfortunately, parts of me are starting to hate him.
I almost let Bella go the night she told me about her mother. I'd gone to my father, demanding answers. Did you know?
Of course I knew.
His impassive reply, the way he'd brushed it off as if it was inconsequential...it had killed me. He knew what Mom's death did to me, what it does to me still, every day. I know that losing her devastated him, and I know Em misses her a lot, but sometimes I feel like it's always been different for me. She and I were close. So close. Did Dad really think having me go after a motherless girl would be okay? Did he think I wouldn't find out? That it wouldn't affect me?
Does he think I'm that cold?
Of course he does. And why wouldn't he? I've been schooled by the best, and I've been proving just how well I've mastered the family trade for over a year.
So, things between us have been tense since that night. My convictions have weakened, and actually falling for Bella didn't help. Emmett's known. Even before I said anything to him, he could see it. He knew my heart wasn't in it this time. I'd hoped, at first, that he'd see things my way, but he's always been Dad's wingman. Instead, he talked me down when I would call him, depressed and frantic because I was going to burn in hell for this.
Call it off. Tell Dad to call it off.
A couple more days, Ed. You can do it. We won't have to work for months...
I'm walking away, blindly pushing through the people littering the dock. Feverishly hot and so tired it hurts, I make it to the parking lot and stop. My car's gone, back in storage, and I can't take the rental because I need something under my name, not Dad's or Em's.
I spin around, not that surprised Emmett has followed me. He gives me the envelope of cash, forcing it into my hands when I try to refuse it.
"Take it," he snarls, red-faced with frustration. "Just...damn. Why didn't you tell me it was this bad?"
"Why couldn't you tell?" I shoot back. "What part of 'I don't want to do this' did you not comprehend?"
"Is she really worth it?" he asks, waving his arms. "Worth leaving? We're all you've got, and you're all we've got. This is us. This is family."
"No, actually you have Rose." An idea comes to mind, and I open my backpack, shoving the envelope inside. I know exactly what I'm going to do with it.
"She has nothing to do with it," Em says.
"She has everything to with it," I say, scoffing. "If she left, you'd follow."
"So you're gonna follow Bella Swan?"
"Bella Swan hates my guts right about now. It's not...she's not the reason I'm leaving, okay? But maybe she was the catalyst. Maybe she opened my eyes."
"How is she so much better than the others?" Unlike our father, he's not accusing me of anything right now; he really wants to know, probably partly because he has a history of this, too.
I think back over the four marks I've had. I did sleep with one, but we'd been fall down drunk, and she'd kicked me out of her bed as soon as it was over. She'd been kind of a Tanya type – drop dead gorgeous but a total man eater. At least, that's how I justified it then. But feelings I've suppressed for years come to the surface now. Feelings like remorse. It doesn't matter what that other girl was like. Her flaws don't excuse my sins.
And Bella. She was all heart. She let me in. And I...let her in.
"I don't really know," I confess. "She's just a girl, but we clicked. She..."
"It's just sex," he insists.
"She was a virgin, Emmett," I say, trying really hard not to blow up. It's not him I'm mad at. It's me.
But his eyes widen fractionally. His reaction only digs the stake deeper. "Oh, shit."
"So why'd you do it, then?" he asks.
"Well, I didn't know."
"Really?" He looks at me skeptically.
"Yeah, really. I...couldn't tell...until. We were going slow. And half the time she was the one trying to go further... I tried to keep her at arm's length for awhile but it was hard. Last night she wanted to, and I really wanted to." I rub a hand over my face. "And then we did and I realized."
"Good sex messes with your head," he says carefully, realizing I'm touchy about this. "Especially if you already like the girl."
"I've been feeling this way since before I slept with her. Last night just solidified it."
He shakes his head, not wanting to see it. I know he does, though.
This is what went down with him and Rose, years ago. He'd just come home from a job he and Dad had been working down in L.A. Rose took one look at him and burst into tears, slapping him when he tried to come any closer. Up until that point, they'd remained "just friends" despite a couple of hookups here and there. Despite the physical stuff, though, they talked a lot, becoming so much more than associates or bed buddies or even best friends. Emmett didn't have to tell me he was falling for Rosalie; I could see it. And I could tell she loved him, too, which is why I wasn't surprised when she reacted the way she did that day.
Dad didn't like it when Em decided to step down, but he dealt with it, probably because he knew that when I was old enough, I'd step in. We traveled around for awhile, doing smaller, albeit lucrative, jobs like hacking into accounts. When Em and Rose got together, she actually started helping out, and by the time I turned eighteen, she was part of the family.
She's never liked that I had to do what I did, or, let's be real – that I chose to do it – but she's never passed judgement, either. She's in this for Emmett, and if he decided to quit and go work a nine to five, she'd be down with that, too.
"I don't know, man. I just..." I close my eyes, trying to sort my thoughts but it's hard. I didn't sleep last night, and it's messing with my head on top of everything else. "Part of me wishes I'd never met her, because she'd be safe from me. But the other part is selfish, you know? I'm glad I met her, because the time we spent was the best. I don't deserve that, but I have it anyway."
We stand there for awhile at least, watching people come and go. I think about Rose back on the boat with my Dad, who's probably doing busy work to kill time until Em returns. Leaving the safety net of my family scares me, but I can't see myself getting on that boat and going down to the Caribbean or wherever the hell, drinking and relaxing like all's well. I can't.
"You should go," I say, nodding at Em.
He nods, blue eyes cloudy. "Will you keep in touch, at least?"
"Eventually. I need to disappear for awhile, though."
"All right." He takes a step closer, and we meet in a tight hug. Leaving my brother sucks, but I try not to focus on that right now. There are other things that hurt way worse, anyway.
We release one another and part ways. I don't look back, and I'm willing to bet he doesn't either.
No looking back. You do what you have to do. Always.
And that's it.
For the first time in my life, I am completely alone. It's intimidating.
I call a cab. I'm told it'll be a fifteen minute wait, so I go to the front of the marina and wait. As usual, it's intensely hot. I tell myself I'd be better off in a cold climate, someplace different than Florida in every way.
I hate that I know Bella's number. I hate that I look at the buttons on my phone and see myself dialing her, even though her number was usually on the 'recently called' list.
My cab pulls up, and I give him the address of a nearby Enterprise, probably the same one our other rental will end up at. I figure driving's my best option, allowing me maximum flexibility and independence. I won't have to submit to anyone's schedule but my own.
An hour later, I'm in an SUV I can already envision myself sleeping in if I get desperate. At first, I tell myself I'll only drive as far as the next motel. But then I drink a large Red Bull and catch a second wind, and I drive for hours and hours. Headed north, over busy highways and empty country roads, welcoming the sunset and then the soft, blue deep of nightfall. Out here stars glitter brightly, the way they do above the emptiest open spaces.
Eventually, hunger sets in, and I pull into an all night McDonalds. While eating, my exhaustion returns with a wallop, and it's all I can do to drive to the Comfort Inn next door, pay for a room, and pass out. I sleep deeply, completely missing check out the next day. It doesn't matter; I don't even know where I'm going. I pay for one more day and go back to McDonalds, where I load up on more junk food.
It's there, halfway through a large fries and vanilla milkshake, that I pick up my phone and call the one person I always said I'd never call.
It rings three times before a familiar voice answers. "Hello?"
I haven't spoken to him in years, but hearing him now feels like it's been no time at all.
"Hello?" he repeats.
Suddenly my heart's racing. If this doesn't work out, I don't know what I'll do. I clear my throat. "Uncle Carlisle?"
Now he pauses. The background noise shifts, like he went someplace quiet. "...Edward?"
I bow my head, eyes closed. "Yeah. It's me."
*Ice Monster - Minus the Bear
thank you for reading, and for letting this unfold. all the questions! i love it. the answers will come, but slowly..like an IV drip.